Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Demo Sweat #12

Because it's that time of year, I'm opening up the column to obscure attention-seekers the world over this month. If you're going to be playing in Austin in March, no matter how remote or undisclosed the location may be, I'll write about you. Just send me a link.

Changing the "rules" a little bit for Demo Sweat this time out made it a more pleasurable experience than it sometimes can be. Having the will to pack into a van and travel long miles for your music doesn't automatically make you better at it, but it does speak to your seriousness. In contrast to some of the barely-formed demos and proto-bands I often review, the out-of-towners I'm featuring today have an inkling of the audiences they want and what devices they can employ to keep them entertained and involved. Whether you do it at the coffee place down the street or traverse the continent, you have to play live at some point. You have to look in the listeners' eyes and see them not paying attention firsthand.

I'm not complaining about the rough stuff. I really like listening to music at every stage of its development. I think it's really hard to appreciate what separates polished, professional, original bands if you don't spend some time listening to the mistakes bands that are (as yet) none of those make. As a musician it's important to keep working on playing the simple stuff even after you've mastered more complicated maneuvers. As a listener, it's valuable to spend some quality time imagining what a new band could be rather than reviewing what an established band already is.

Out of Alaska and almost certainly pleased to be sojourning in Texas for all of March, Both Feet are a duo that sound like a full band. What's more, they can sound like more than one band. They're based around frostbite-defying slide guitar licks and drums that use the toms well to fill in for the lack of bass, but beyond their Morphine-Skynyrd central hybrid they can shift to harder rock or reggae feels. Cool vocals, and I admire the subtle, song-focused way that guitar effects are used in a not overpowering fashion to thicken the sound. Guitar-drums duos that can play one style effectively are rare enough; one that can effectively change costumes like Both Feet even more so. They have recurring gigs at Kahuna's in Austin and The Tap Room in Cedar Park all the way through the end of March; and they're at Blu downtown on St. Patrick's Day.

Manhattan Murder Mystery, who are from LA, have a bit of fashionably ironic garage echo to them. But they're less premeditated and more rococo than bands from their strange land often are and as much as they have the confidence to twist around styles they're also unafraid to outright suck when the needs of the song call for it. "Merry Christmas, Wesley Willis" is a tribute to the late Chicago eccentric that cleverly manages to pay homage to his agonizing style without really sounding much like it. Although they occasionally try too hard to be quirky (and the occasional harmonica playing is truly awful), even in garage fidelity their intellectualized twitchy drive recalls Lou Reed, The Cramps, some obvious Arcade Fire when they slow the tempos down. They're ramshackle but continuously interesting. They play Austin six times between March 17th and March 20th.

Mykheal Moon first came to my attention as a member of the Sigma Six, a band from space (via San Antonio) that I admire. As a solo artist, Moon's stuff doesn't have the obscuring benefit of the Six's wall of sound. His vocals are a little off-putting in a stark demo setting, although I like the Syd Barrett sort of way he comes slightly unhooked from the instruments. His pitch mistakes sound better absorbed in the cloud, but I like his singing for the most part either way. You can see why his band is good, but these pieces here are too rough to be presented as completed work. There's a lot of single-section guitar pieces, although even the simplest changes are adorned with some interesting and original rhythms. Totally worth listening to, but check the band stuff first.

A lot of my readership will turn against Ronnie Caywood just because he's country (Anna C., always one to put things in perspective: "This sounds like the kind of music people make parodies of") but if one can listen past the solemn, band-in-a-can pedal steel and fiddle parts there's some unmistakable authentic soul emanating from Caywood's lead guitar and especially his deep, shivery vocals. "My Elusive Dreams" is a hokey guy-gal ballad duet that completely wins you over -- the John n' June ad libs at the end are hysterical. "I'd Have Played Here for a Dime" demonstrates well Caywood's ability to write original lyrics in a pointedly fusty genre. His selection of tunes has some range, in its own way, with swing, blues, and folk all represented. With a bar band and a few drinks in them, I imagine Caywood tearing it up. The over-mannered presentation here is the only drawback.

The John Orr Franklin Band sound like one of those bands that gets its music picked to be played in the background of obnoxious guitar-store radio ads. Don't condemn them for being arena cheese, since the instrumental performances are worthy and the well-blended vocals from all four players show savvy. Condemn them instead for song titles like "True 2 U" and grating verse guitar parts. If leader Franklin is skilled enough to play the leads I hear on these recordings, why are so many of the guitar parts so lame? Because playing the guitar well and writing well for the guitar are not the same thing. The Sore Losers are very average old-school punk (Social Distortion seems a big influence) with snazzy bass and lead guitar counterbalanced by boring rhythm guitar, unvaried drumming, and a vocalist without much charisma. I wish they gave the lead guitar more to do than standard-issue intros and solos. They also seem oddly lacking in energy for punk rockers... maybe they need to play faster, or more dramatically, but they had a more lulling effect than anything else on me and that's not likely their intention.

Michael Pierce is one of those guitarists who entertains himself by plugging into a loop pedal and stacking lots of simple, interlocking four-note melodies on top of a repeating three chords. There's no point whatsoever to this music other than aggrandizing its maker, who most likely needs to spend more time playing with other human people -- his recordings with a bassist and drummer as The MAD Trio sound precisely identical to his solo loop things. There's no development or tension or interplay, no point, you know, to this musical wallpaper. The difference between being a hobbyist and an artist? A hobbyist plays because they like the sound of their playing. An artist plays because they have something valuable about themselves to communicate through their playing. Please note the difference, as does Cosmic Jaguar. One of those only-in-Texas phenomenons, the Jag is a freaky free-noise one-man electronic percussion storm who also claims to be a Mayan shaman and has complex numerological derivations for all of his compositions. Whether this makes any sense at all to me or you is immaterial, because the Jaguar clearly believes in it, and his music has a seductive, bizarre, music-of-the-spheres energy to it, if you can find the right wavelength to which to attune. You can't dance to it without difficulty but it's bright and busy and has a mystical underlying order to it. And it's totally not boring.

1 comment:

  1. http://cosmicjaguar.com/cosmicjaguar/Conscious_Convergence.html

    blessings! come on out to Convergernce!